Last week, Fu and I participated in an Omikoshi (also known as Mikoshi in its less honorific form) festival.
To be honest, I had no idea then what it is about or the reasons behind the festival, except that its a Japanese tradition where lots of people carry a structure, walk around and make a lot of noise. Lol I sound so terribly ignorant, eh?
BUT!!! I have since rectified it by learning more about it :D
First, what is an mikoshi?
An mikoshi (神輿) is a palanquin with extremely ornate designs. The details on it are incredible! It serves as a portable shrine and is meant for carrying the deity during festivals.
On the festival day, the mikoshi is moved from the shrine to the neighborhood that worships the shrine. In this case, the neighborhood is Nihonbashi, which is nicknamed “Wall Street of Japan” by some.
The mikoshi is then carried around the neighborhood to visit individual shops where the mikoshi is stopped and raised up as a form of blessing for the shop in the coming year.
For the mikoshi to be carried around, we need carriers. Enter…
This is the standard “uniform” for the carriers:
- Happi coat (no, not a funky spelling for happy, but 半被 – happi)
- Obi sash
- Special shorts called han momohiki 半股引 – This is surprisingly complex to wear!
- Tabi – Spilt-toe Japanese socks with a rubber sole
Btw, the guy in yellow kinda creeps me out. Why does he have to look like he’s not wearing shorts and WHY DOES HE HAVE HIS HAND ON HIS WAIST LIKE THAT T_T
It’s very lively (or noisy, depending on how you look at it) with shouts of “Wasshoi! Hey! Wasshoi! Hey!” which can transform to “Say ya!” and other variations.
These are typical shouts when shouldering the mikoshi, although on that day I heard “黒色!” (“hey se” – black color) and “See ya!” instead -_- Only realized what they were shouting when researching to write this post haha.
They also swung the mikoshi from side to side. This is supposedly done to entertain the deity seated on the mikoshi.
It completely doesn’t make sense to me though. How is it entertaining to sit atop something that is swaying so violently? I’d probably throw up from the ride, but I suppose deities don’t suffer from trivialities like motion sickness.
When shouldering the mikoshi, we realized (a little belatedly) that it’s very important to stand with people around the same height as you. Otherwise…
Fu was hobbling along on bended knees and was near-dying because he was so exhausted from walking like a disabled penguin crushed under the heavy pole.
Fortunately, the Japanese know how to enjoy life and there were rest stops, complete with food and drinks!
After the break, he swapped sides (since his left shoulder was dead) and the difference when he stood at the correct point:
The mikoshi made its way to bridge that gave the area its name: Nihonbashi 日本橋, which literally translates to “Japan Bridge”.
Looking up, the bridge looks very nice! (especially with my super photo-taking skills :D )
But look down and the chaos instantly shatters the serene image. Lol.
The juxtaposition is really quite hilarious.
The mikoshi visits shops written on the lanterns that are placed on the mikoshi (also the folks that donated money for the festival). When in front of the shop, the mikoshi is raised:
Somewhere along the journey, the person leading the way suddenly called out “Ok, let’s switch to just the girls shouldering the mikoshi!”
Instantly the row of guys carrying the mikoshi closest to me turned and were grinning widely saying, “Come, come! I change place with you!” Their overeager faces had an almost crazed look to them. They must be really tired out or something…
Anyway, I hesitated going because I wasn’t dressed in the full gear (there weren’t enough sets to go around and I only had the coat) and I didn’t know how fussy they were about attire. What if I get scolded for touching the sacred palanquin without being properly attired or something?!
But girls available to carry the mikoshi were kind of a rare commodity and I kept getting looks because I was a girl wearing the coat but not going forward. Felt like I was being judged for trying to escape the call of duty wth.
Ok fine, since you all clearly can see I’m not fully attired but expect me to carry it, then I will! (Or maybe they couldn’t see since it was already dark. I’ll never know.)
But even though no one could really see, I still held the coat together with my free hand so that it looks more legit, as if it’s held together by the obi sash.
I felt a bit like an impostor.
Finally after 2.5 hours, the mikoshi headed back to the starting point.
The next day, Fu had a huge bruise on the left shoulder from the bad position, but his right shoulder was fine! My shoulder was just a tiny bit sore, since I only carried it for a fraction of time that Fu did haha.
Nonetheless, it was fun to participate in this for the first time! I’m glad we were invited to take part in this. Thanks PB! ^o^